Landscape Gardeners – our first year

Marty and I formed a proper partnership as Horsham Landscape Gardeners and started our career together landscaping some beautiful gardens in Horsham.

It proved easy to get our first few jobs, then just as we thought we were on a roll, work dried up and we learned that to be successful businessmen we had to get out and market our  business. We learned many lessons in that first year and came through with some battle scars and having fallen out a few times, but ultimately our relationship survived and became stronger.

Our first job was for a friend of a friend. They always say that recommendations are the best way to get work and it’s a fair point, though it does add pressure to make sure the finished job is high quality. The particular job was to build wooden decking outside the customer’s back door and across the back of his house. It was quite a large structure and took us a while to complete. The customer was delighted and recommended us to a neighbour.

Well that was easy and we fell into the trap of thinking that all we had to do was a good job and our loyal clients would find more customers for us. Sadly it didn’t turn out that way and within 3 months we’d run out of work.  We recognise the problem when we had a couple of weeks’ work left, so held an emergency war meeting and decided on a course of action.

Marketing wasn’t in our repertoire so we had to do some research and call in some help.  We worked out a plan because we had to do something quickly if we weren’t to run out of work – and money!

We had a three-pronged attack; firstly we’d get out to networking events and aim for two a week each. We figured that meeting lots of other business owners would help us forge relationships and should result in new business.

Secondly we had 5,000 leaflets printed and arranged for them to be delivered to the wealthier areas of the town.

Thirdly we sought out local magazines and inserted ads, thinking that folk would rather employee a local company to do their landscaping.

The thing with marketing is that it doesn’t work overnight – and it doesn’t work immediately.  We found that the networking gave the best results and were lucky to get a job almost immediately. It wasn’t massive but enough to keep us busy for another couple of weeks.

Then we had a better idea and redirected our networking efforts to meeting companies we could actually work with, rather than just touting for work with all and sundry. This approach was far more effective and we built relationships with garden designers, as well as larger builders who would want new properties landscaped.  We continued in this vein throughout our first year and the relationships we cultivated bore fruit. It wasn’t all one way though as we helped those companies gain more business too.

So the biggest lesson we learned in our first year was how to keep work coming in.  Our success meant we ended Year One with a healthy balance sheet and with a pipeline of landscaping work. In fact we were so successful that we needed to take on employees – which was our next big lesson.



Where it all Started

Marty and I went to school together. We both loved the countryside and spent every spare moment running around the downs and climbing trees, riding our bikes down bumpy tracks and scraping our knees sliding down chalk pits.

I suppose it was a free childhood and one that probably wouldn’t be possible today. We had a great time and certainly kept fit. We weren’t indoors watching TV or playing games on a computer.

We went through junior school, then secondary and when it came time to decide on careers we both wanted to do something outdoors. We couldn’t bear the thought of spending life behind a desk so we wracked our brains, wrote lists and flicked through the Yellow Pages looking for inspiration.

In the end it was Marty’s grandad who suggested learning gardening, but not just digging and planting, we should study and discover the science behind the grunt work. So off we both went to technical college and learned about landscape gardening. I don’t think it was called that but the course covered everything we’d need to get started on our chosen path.

After college we went separate ways and Marty joined a local gardener whilst I worked for a tree surgeon for a while. We both learned a great deal before moving on to other companies where we complemented our knowledge by learning about other facets of landscaping. While I joined a trout farm, my friend joined forces with a partner and started a fencing business.

Marty remained a fencer for some years, while I switched jobs a couple of times, working for local builders and discovering how to build such things as brick walls and stone patios. I also learned woodworking skills as one of my employers built wooden decking and pergolas, as well as garden buildings.

It was all great grounding and those 15 years after school taught us a lot about a variety of landscaping skills.

At the age of 33 Marty and I had a long heart-to-heart over a few beers. We worked out a plan to become rich, or at least enhance our incomes. We’d work together and set up our own landscape gardening company. We’d employ staff, build a big business and be the best landscapers in the area.

So that’s what we did.